Rodents provide clues as to causes of human illness in African slums

Rodents provide clues as to causes of human illness in African slums

One in five rodents in a Kenyan slum carries a disease that causes fever and illness in humans, a study has found.

Scientists discovered a significant percentage of the rats and mice in Nairobi's Kibera slum – one the largest in the world – were carrying Leptospira bacteria in their kidneys.

The bacteria can be passed to humans through contact with urine causing the disease which in mild forms results in fever, headache and nausea, or in serious cases can cause organ damage – when it is more commonly known as Weil's disease.

The study by scientists at the University of Glasgow, working with investigators from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the US Centers for Disease Control and National Museums of Kenya, also found that most residents in Kibera spot at least one rat in their house every day, according to a questionnaire survey of 100 households.

Dr Jo Halliday, of the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, who led the study said: "Little is known about how much illness is caused globally by leptospirosis. It is an under-reported disease due to its non-specific symptoms.

"However, many instances of unspecified fever in tropical regions may be due to this bacteria which is recognized as a re-emerging infection globally as a consequence of the growth of slums.

"Our study really emphasises the need to quantify the burden of human illness not only in places like Kibera, but elsewhere, to raise awareness of this neglected disease amongst , and to develop effective programs."

A total of 237 rodents were trapped by the researchers – 43 rats and 194 mice – from 948 trap placements in 270 households. Mice were more likely than rats to carry the bacteria.

Around 60% of households in and around Kibera reported seeing groups of five or more rodents in their house every day while 66% reported weekly or daily sightings of fresh droppings in their house.

Official census figures put the population of Kibera at around 200,000, though some sources claim there are many more people living in the neighbourhood situated three miles south of Nairobi city centre. Poor infrastructure, open sewers and refuse problems contribute to high levels of disease and illness in the human population of Kibera.

Cases of fever are common in Kibera, with an average of 2.7 episodes per person, per year for children under the age of five, and 0.58 episodes for people over five years of age. How much of this is due to leptospirosis is unknown.

The study, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

More information: www.ajtmh.org/content/early/20… 3-0415.full.pdf+html

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Urban slum conditions are a source of leptospirosis

Apr 23, 2008

A study conducted in an urban slum setting in Salvador, Brazil has found that open sewers, accumulations of refuse, and inadequate floodwater drainage are acting as sources for transmission of the disease leptospirosis. ...

Bacterial disease outbreak threatens metro Detroit animals

Oct 28, 2011

More than 20 cases of the life-threatening bacterial infection leptospirosis have been reported in Detroit-area dogs in the past three weeks, according to Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Population ...

CDC chief: Valley fever a 'growing problem' in California

Sep 24, 2013

U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, called valley fever "a big and growing problem" that presents "substantial" economic and health costs for Californians.

Six dead in Philippine epidemic caused by rat urine

Oct 09, 2013

A bacterial epidemic caused by water contaminated with rat urine has hit a flood-ravaged region in the northern Philippines, killing six people and overwhelming local hospitals, a health official said Wednesday.

Bacterial slime helps cause serious disease

May 05, 2008

Leptospirosis is a serious but neglected emerging disease that infects humans through contaminated water. Now research published in the May issue of the journal Microbiology shows for the first time how bacteria that cause ...

Recommended for you

Africans in New York complain of Ebola stigma

5 hours ago

Members of the west African community in New York complained Wednesday that their children were being bullied at school and businesses were losing money because of hysteria over Ebola.

Ebola expert says China at risk, seeks Japan aid

5 hours ago

A scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus says he is concerned that the disease could spread to China given the large numbers of Chinese workers traveling to and from Africa.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.